Monday, September 28, 2009

The Olympics bid

I was expecting Obama to make a "surprise" visit to Copenhagen the very last minute to help Chicago get the Olympics, but, although he is actually going the last minute, it won't be a surprise visit.

What is the significance? For one thing, since no other President of the U.S.A. has taken it so personal as to go plead to the IOC to get the Olympics, I would be very surprised if the IOC slights him making the visit a wasted effort.

Ever since I came to live in Chicago in 2003, I have been thinking that this great city has turned into something like "the greatest hidden city". What I mean by that is that most people think they know what Chicago is all about, and since the city has declined in worldwide influence, that the city is less interesting. While the influence decline is true, it has experienced a positive evolution; that's perhaps why I keep seeing that new visitors get a pleasant surprise.

Chicago has had the same chain of lake front parks it has ever had, and you can go to the same historic markers people went 50 or 60 years ago, but the visits are nicer today. It is not just Millenium Park, but other less specific things. A friend of mine came this summer, and I took him on a bicycle tour of the city, that in itself was a great novelty to him. He was absolutely impressed with what we saw and where we went; but I doubt a tour like ours could have been practical only 10 years ago, with much higher crime rates, fewer bike lanes, when the buses didn't have the racks, when you couldn't just go to a rent-a-bike and had to have your own. The very popular Segway tours didn't exist until 2004 or so, I think. While the view from the Sears (Willis) Tower is still the same, although it doesn't look as impressive today because while it was the tallest building in the world, today is merely the fifth; but it didn't have the all-glass balconies it has since this summer. Try stepping on clear glass 400 meters above the street level!. A friend from New York was marveled at how "new" the buildings look. I kept telling him that that was nonsense, because the buildings were even older than those in New York on average, but he insisted that he knows they are older, but they look newer. It helps that Chicago is depopulating very slowly, and the new work technologies require less physical presence, which means that the city is becoming less stressful (that is, the same world-class infrastructure is enjoyed by slightly fewer people). This may explain this new phenomenon in which affluent people who used to live in the suburbs is coming to live in the city proper; that provides for renovated neighborhoods with lots of fun things to do. There are other things as well, that make this a "hidden city". For example, 40+ years ago when African Americans where considered nothing short of second class citizens, they were making Jazz and Blues that still reverberate today, and the places where they did this were not touristic attractions back then. There is a very large collection of small factors that make visiting Chicago a much nicer place to visit today, consistently exceeding expectations.

But this city has always had many worldwide attractions. And for events such as Olympics, it is helpful that Chicago has lots of ethnic communities and not just the usual, many peoples from all over the world will feel at home here, much more than in Rio de Janeiro or Madrid.

I have the feeling that the time is not right for Madrid. If something can be objected of Chicago is that the USA has had many Olympics (LA 84 + 12y to Atlanta 96, + 20y tentatively to Chicago), but then if Madrid would be chosen, Europe would have three Olympics (Greece 2004, London 2012, Madrid 2016), almost consecutively, and Spain two Olympics within 24 years. That, I think, is the most important advantage of Rio de Janeiro, that the Olympics have never gone to South America. But I don't think Rio will get it. To begin with, violence and crime are very serious problems, and it remains to be seen whether Rio would really benefit from all the infrastructure that would be needed for the Olympics. Chicago, on the other hand, regardless of whether it wins the Olympics bid or not, has already begun to execute the urban plans for the areas where infrastructure for the Olympics would be built, getting the Olympics or not, Chicago already knows what to do with those areas. And for sure that after the games we can put to good use any infrastructure that would be built for the Olympics. Regarding existing infrastructure, it is true that Rio de Janeiro's is enough, but Chicago's is superb.

Some people in this city has been short sighted about the Olympics. They are right in that we certainly don't need to incur risks nor expenses to continue to make this city great, but like I said, today's Chicago is much better than what the people think it is, thus, nothing better than this opportunity for the city to be rediscovered. Coming back to my assertion that Chicago is the "greatest hidden city", ever since Obama was elected, I have been saying that he would help the city to be re-discovered. Among other things, he not just claims Chicago to be his home, but he is also the only unapologetic urbanite President in recent history, that is, he is a proud Chicagoan. I am sure the First Lady and the President will be a very effective one-two punch on behalf of the city, as you know, I met Barack Obama before he was famous, and even back then he was "charming", someone you would like to stop to talk to even if he is a total stranger and you are in a hurry, as it happened to me. And we talked precisely about the personality of Chicago, how this is a place like no other. From what our mutual neighbors who also know Mrs. Obama say, she is charming too.

About how Olympic bids are won or lost, I don't know of any back room negotiations and deals, not even whether they happen. But I am sure of something: The IOC is in the show business. They want to make sure that their show is going to get promotion. Now that the visit has been announced, the members of the IOC will have a chance to check for themselves the showmanship (i.e. "charm") of the people who would promote these Olympic Games, like I said, Mrs. and Mr. Obama Chicago are ideal for this. Then, it remains to be seen the level of committment, and by the mere virtue of the president taking a pause of his hectic schedule when his top political priorities are being debated to go plead for the city of Chicago represents a guarantee that he cares. Mayor Daley, has more than proved total commitment.

Disclaimer: I provide an informal service of "Bed and Breakfast" for work mates, I call myself "Chicagrafo" because I discovered my skills for photography here, and I am thinking about providing an informal guided tour service, not just the city as a whole, but featuring historic places such as Hyde Park, the University of Chicago, and the Obama's place, all within short walking distance from the place to stay!

Friday, September 11, 2009

Windows 32 bits, all versions: Max memory is 3GB

A friend of mine contacted me to ask me what is the maximum amount of memory that a 32 bit windows may handle. Because he knows that it should be 4GB, nevertheless, he has seen very many computers, especially laptops, that come with 3GB.

Regardless of which Windows of 32 bits you are using, whether XP, Vista, or Windows7, the limit is around 3GB. The reason is that the BIOS of the computer will reserve addressing for memory mapped I/O for the video card, PCI devices, etc. The reserved addresses depend on your devices, but it should be clear that a 512MB video card will take at the very least 512MB of addressing. When the operating system starts, it must respect the reserved addresses and if it is a 32 bit Windows, then it will be able to only address 4GB minus whatever the BIOS took. A 1GB video card will leave less than 3GB of addressing space to refer to RAM, typically, 2.8 GB.

Unbelievably, Microsoft keeps doing Operating Systems susceptible to these kind of problems. 20 years ago, it was the problem of Low, High, Extended and Expanded memory, exactly because of the addressing space that the BIOS reserved: The 80x86 in real mode have only 1MB of addressing space, of which the BIOS needs about 384K to map devices, so, the RAM memory addressable with the "real" mode is 640K. When the AT computers and their successors began to come with 1MB or more, one had to do very complicated DOS settings so that the DOS would map a memory window in the BIOS region to the memory above the 640K, and do the swapping. Alternatively, you could have a DOS extender that would run the application in "protected mode", using the full addressing capabilities of the processor, but that had to reset to "real" mode every time it had to use DOS. The problem is that DOS was absolutely tied to the "real" mode of addressing, a major design fault of Microsoft.

Nowadays, we have grown our memory usage 4096 times (12 bits in 20 years, or a year to year rate of 51% growth) and experience the same problem...

What should Microsoft do?
1) Port all of its device drivers to 64 bits. One of the contributors to Windows XP popularity is that, without XP being architecturally any superior to Windows 2000, it came with a very large catalog of device drivers and this greatly simplified the major hassle of hunting for the device driver and dealing with the installation complications. But today there are gazillion devices for which M$ made device drivers for, that don't have an updated version for x64.
2) It should create a virtualized sandbox to connect peripherals, especially USB peripherals, in which the user installs the old 32 bit drivers for the device and internally the operating system runs them in a virtual machine environment.
3) Put pressure on AMD and Intel to extend the AMD64 instruction set with a driver compatibility mode compatible with the driver model of old 32 bits. (Remember, AMD64 is binary compatible at the application level, but the device drivers and kernel modules need to be "long mode")

What should the customer do?
1) Cease and desist at using 32 bit Windows as host operating system
2) Try Linux 64 bit and virtualized 32 bit Windows
3) Put pressure for device manufacturers to provide x64 drivers

Wednesday, September 09, 2009

Do Corporations have the right of free speech?

Of course they don't.

As a matter of fact, they don't have any rights. It is their owners who have rights, so, I guess that as a proxy for the rights of the owners of corporations, many legal systems in the world confer to corporations privileges that are very similar to rights, and define the figure of a "legal person".

In the United States, it happened an amazing process that I have seen called as "Corporate Personhood", through which associations of people and money to make profits (corporations) progressively acquired rights given landmark Supreme Court decisions, especially after the Civil War and the reconstruction amendments that tried to extend the constitutional protections to the recently freed slaves.

The fact remains, naturally, that a corporation is not a free citizen, so, treating it as a citizen will cause problems.

Today the Supreme Court will decide whether the free speech constitutional guarantees apply to Corporations and other associations. I am particularly concerned about the possibility of the court finding that free speech protections apply to corporations even in the case of speech intended to influence elections and public policy.

It is not difficult to imagine that corporations, although inanimate entities, may have "opinions" and "political opinions". Remember what corporations are: associations bound by law to make as much profit as they can; therefore, they have interests to promote. The corporations also have the means to promote their interest; sometimes, they can even make their case appealing to the public; sometimes they can not, because their case is detrimental of the public, but they can just keep quiet about that. For example, a high-technology corporation may need highly-skilled labor from other countries, and has the means to promote all the benefits of such immigration while never even mentioning the negatives, that is, corporations may present their cases to the public to decide, that is, they may have opinions.

There are a gazillion things wrong with allowing corporations to promote political positions.

It is very bad already that money matters a great deal in modern politics of the United States. I should remind people that this country already tried the idea that wealth was an indicative of the capacity to self govern and decide public policy issues, many states had qualifications to vote that included ownership of properties or poll taxes that effectively excluded poor or non wealthy people from voting. But it was proven an evil so bad, that the 24th amendment to the United States Constitution was submitted to the States and ratified in 1964, and still, the problem persisted at the State level until the Supreme Court decided that poll taxes where in violation of the equal protection clause of the Fourteenth Amendment (that is, the whole 24th amendment was always a moot point, because all poll taxes, for Federal or State elections, at least according to the 6-3 vote of the U.S. Supreme Court in "Harper v. Virginia Board of Elections" were unconstitutional). As can be seen, the system has moved backward, wealth provides more and more influence at public elections; only that now it is not legally sanctioned but it happens in practice.

But, if corporations are granted freedom of political speech to influence elections, I am concerned not just about the evils of eroding the principle of "one person, one vote", with "one person, his dollar votes", but that the dollar votes themselves do not represent all the dollars evenly. I mean, someone who has made some fortune is arguably someone competent, and it is not very crazy to think that there really isn't a problem to grant more influence to those who have more dollars. But, as I will show, the dollar votes do not count equally every dollar. So, there is the risk that a few individuals may use their above average wealth to become even wealthier and thus even more politically influential. By the way, I haven't seen the following argument being mentioned, so, there is a chance that it is original of mine.

It is a consequence of the fact that every corporation over represents the interests of its controlling majority. Meaning that if I control 50+% of a corporation, and an adversary controls less, I can bias the activities of the corporation to consistently privilege my interests over the non-controlling owners. Since corporations are allowed by law to own other corporations, then, I can control, let's say, 51% of a small company "A" that itself owns 51% of a larger one, "B", which itself owns 51% of an even larger one "C", and then a "D". Ad infinitum. So, while I just own 6.25% of "D", I effectively control it, I have magnified the influence of my money by 16. With enough consolidation, I can exert massive influence on an economy. By the way, this scenario is not implausible. There have been periods of great "consolidation" among the corporations, and there have been people like J. P. Morgan who had an enormous economic influence, not just in the United States, but in the whole world, while never having a really big fortune (I just read in Wikipedia that his worth at the time of his death was equivalent in modern figures to $1.4 billion, which is rather puny compared to his worldwide influence). So, the process through which consolidation multiplies the power of some people is a very real phenomenon. Thus, I am worried about people not just leveraging their economic power, but also their political influence in the same measure.

Any Libertarian must be very concerned about the possibility of giving such mechanisms to the few owners of controlling interests of the mega corporations.

But these two are not all the evils from this very bad idea of granting freedom to influence elections to corporations. Others have explained them, so, I will just mention some in here:

What about the political freedom of employees? If a corporation exercises its "right" to influence elections, then, some employees must carry out that activity; but what if the political opinions of the employee are the opposite of what his work duties must further?

Corporations are bound by law to maximize profits, but the profits of corporations are not the only goal of a society, there may be others, such as protecting life (as in environmental protection, healthcare, etc). So, if a corporation may further its profiteering interests, by law it must do so. Let's say a municipal transportation company. Let's imagine that the municipality is discussing a transportation subsidy, and some voters want to go to a demonstration against. So, is the company authorized to deny service to the protesters, because it is bound by law to maximize profits and thus to minimize the threats of the subsidy not being passed?

From time to time the Supreme Court concludes awful mistakes and sets dreadful precedents that take decades to correct, there is reason for concern